Drive time: 3 hours
Don’t even bother packing your iPhone when you go to Waldo Lake. For one thing, you probably won’t get service in this secluded basin, one of the world’s purest alpine lakes and the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. Plus, you don’t want any pings and rings interrupting the silence. Thanks to a 2010 ban, nary the whir of a gas motor will tarnish your serenity at this 9.8-square-mile jewel. In fact, except for the occasional swoosh of a bald eagle’s wings and the harmonic song of a hermit warbler, the only sound you’ll hear is the echo of your paddle dipping into Waldo’s haunting blue waters, where the view down reaches a world-record 157 feet.
Avoid the mosquitos during high season (June/July) at North Waldo Campground, the driest and most popular of the lake’s sites.
Fill your cooler with tentside staples at Ray’s Food Place in Oakridge.
Rent a canoe from Upstream Adventures in Oakridge and explore Waldo the old-fashioned way ($45 per day).
Kirkland On Lake Washington
Drive time: 3 hours
With million-dollar panoramas of Seattle’s skyline rising against the Olympic Mountains, Kirkland is rich in more than just vistas. The core of this tree-lined burg (where salaries are on average about twice Portland’s) boasts a grid of high-end boutiques, wine bars, and galleries—most of which are more easily enjoyed with a platinum Amex card. Fortunately, the best part of Kirkland—Marina Park’s manicured lawns, sandy shores, and lapping waves—comes absolutely free.
The bike and kayak rentals at swanky Woodmark Hotel cost nothing for guests. But you’ll pay for the on-site Swedish massage ($100). From $189
The pancetta-wrapped braised rabbit at Café Juanita is as indulgent as it sounds.
Circumnavigate Lake Washington on the Sightseer, a 70-foot yacht with sun-soaked decks ideal for ogling multimillion dollar mansions.
Lake Merwin (and more)
Drive time: 1 hour
As the Lewis River winds its way from Mount Adams to the Columbia River, three dams interrupt its delivery of glacial mountain runoff. Lucky for us. The result: a sprawling natural water park for all ages in the three massive lakes extending from the edge of Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Lake Merwin, Yale Lake, and Swift Reservoir offer 12,321 acres of combined space for splashing, swimming, and good old Marco Polo. Should your brood tire of pruney fingers, excursions of a less liquid variety await on nearby Mount St. Helens’s new zip line or inside the popular Ape Cave. And once your adventure’s over, your trip home is only an hour—barely enough time for a single “Are we there yet?”
Stash your clan at Beaver Bay Park, a 63-site campground with a boat ramp, picnic areas, and a protected swimming beach that awaits at the eastern end of Yale Lake. From $20
Combination campground, diner, and climber registration center for St. Helens, Cougar’s Lone Fir Resort & Café provides a charming knotty-pine deck for feasting on thick-crusted pizza and craft beer.
Lather on the sunscreen for a four-hour kayak tour of any lake with Cascade Pack & Paddle (from $50).
Stehekin On Lake Chelan
Drive time: 6.5 hours
Like most love affairs, the road to Stehekin begins with a quickened pulse ... courtesy of a 15-mile trek through the craggy Northern Cascades, a two-hour boat ride up Lake Chelan’s narrow channel, or a thrilling seaplane flight. It ends at the gateway to North Cascades National Park, a confluence of lake, mountain, river, and emptiness—and site of untold proposals. Soon you’ll be saying “I do,” too: to hiking to the 312-foot Rainbow Falls, to bird-watching at Coon Lake, or to merely charting the sun’s lazy arc from your front porch hammock.
Shack up at the comfortably rustic North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, and pair local wine with balcony seats to stunning sunsets over the glassy lake each night.
Good luck strolling, not sprinting, to the Stehekin Pastry Company, once the aromas of just-baked cinnamon buns and fresh coffee hit your nose.
Fall even deeper in love—but not overboard—while navigating the frothy currents of Stehekin River’s fast-paced upper section on a guided white-water rafting tour.